A new £13 million partnership to accelerate cancer-focused drug discovery in Northern Ireland has been launched by Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster MLA.
As part of the project, Queen’s and Almac Discovery have announced the scheduling of a phase one clinical trial for ovarian cancer, involving the first novel cancer drug fully developed in Northern Ireland.
Involving up to 60 ovarian cancer patients, the drug being trialled has been created as a result of an earlier collaboration between Almac Discovery and Professor Tracy Robson from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s.
Explaining about the trial, Professor Robson said: “This latest trial involves a new treatment for cancer known as ALM201, which rather than attacking tumours directly, prevents the growth of new blood vessels in tumours, starving them of oxygen and nutrients and thereby preventing their growth. It targets tumours by an entirely different pathway to those treatments currently approved.”
Alan Armstrong, CEO of Almac added: “Bringing new treatments to patients is a complex process. The announcement today of a new clinical trial, which is the result of a previous partnership between Almac and Queen’s School of Pharmacy, is a timely illustration of how collaboration between the University and industry is already creating novel approaches to cancer therapy which have a very real chance of helping patients.”
At today’s event, Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster, said: “This significant investment in research and development will enhance collaboration between academia and industry. This will ensure the investment is maximized, that research is effectively commercialized and that ultimately, enhanced treatment solutions are made available to cancer patients.
Foster continued, “The fact that Almac and Queen’s are engaged in such ground-breaking research here in Northern Ireland is something that we should be extremely proud of. It will reinforce our position as a leader in research and development for the health and life sciences sector.”
It was also announced that a new CCRCB/Almac Discovery joint programme in Cancer Drug Discovery will bring researchers from Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) and scientists from Almac Discovery together to translate research discoveries into treatments for patients.
The two projects represent a total investment of £13M, with £7 million of support offered by Invest Northern Ireland, which includes part funding from the European Regional Development Fund.
As a result of the joint programme, 17 scientists from Almac Discovery have been seconded to Queen’s CCRCB in an industry led venture. The discovery team will work to identify parts of tumours which are susceptible to treatment by cancer drugs and to then develop the new drugs to target them.
The partnership will also enable new approaches to selecting those patients who will be most likely to respond to the new drugs, and to create the technologies needed to deliver the drugs directly to the tumour site in the patient.
The new discovery programme is being led by Professor Tim Harrison, Vice President of Discovery Chemistry with Almac Discovery. As part of this partnership, Professor Harrison has been appointed McClay Chair of Medicinal Chemistry at Queen’s for the next three years.
Commenting on the new partnership, he said: “While Almac Discovery and Queen’s have already been successfully collaborating for a number of years, this exciting new programme is bringing together for the first time, under one roof, some of our most talented scientists. As a result we expect to see an increase in both the breadth of drug targets we are able to identify and a subsequent increase in the development of potential therapeutics for patients.”